Michael Hooper is back in the Wallabies squad
Melbourne (AFP) - Veteran flanker Michael Hooper was included in Australia’s squad Sunday for their five-Test tour of Britain and Europe after pulling out of the Rugby Championship with “mindset” issues, but James Slipper will captain the team.
The 30-year-old’s return is a massive boost for Dave Rennie’s side as they prepare to face Scotland, France, Italy, Ireland and Wales on consecutive Saturdays from October 29.
Hooper, the Wallabies’ most capped skipper, withdrew on the eve of Australia’s Test against Argentina at Mendoza in August, saying he was not in the “right mindset” to lead his country.
He missed the all six matches in southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.
“To have Michael back in the group is massive for our team on and off the field and we’ll continue to make sure that he has the support around him he needs,” said Rennie.
“He’s done a lot of work in the last wee while and been training with our Sydney-based boys for the last couple of weeks, but we’re keen for him to come in and just focus on himself.”
Last week, long-time teammate Bernard Foley said Hooper was in a good place and excited about the tour ahead.
“I think he’s in a place where he’s excited, which is when he’s at his best,” he told reporters.
“I think he’s still working on it. It’s going to be ongoing. Just what he went through and to see him wanting to come back is really exciting.”
The 121-Test star’s decision to step away was widely applauded across the game and in his absence, James Slipper captained the side, with Hooper’s fellow Test centurion retaining the armband.
- Massive opportunity -
Rennie did not rule out Hooper leading the team at next year’s World Cup but said the focus was on him playing well.
“He’s a good man Slips, he’s got a huge amount of respect within the group and Hoops’ job is to just come in and play well,” he said.
Whether Hooper can slot back in at number seven remains unclear with Pete Samu and Fraser McReight both performing well in the position in his absence.
Rennie named five uncapped players in the 36-man group with Sam Talakai, Ben Donaldson and Mark Nawaqanitawase in their first Wallabies squad.
Marika Koroibete and several other key players were unavailable due to commitments with their clubs in Japan. Another notable absentee was veteran Kurtley Beale.
But fly-half Foley, who also plays in Japan, was included as one of two overseas-based players. France-based lock Will Skelton was the other.
“We’ve got a massive opportunity over the next five matches to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the world and string together some performances that our supporters are proud of back home in Australia,” said Rennie.
Australia head to Europe on the back of three straight defeats, two against New Zealand and one to South Africa.
Australia squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Banks, Jock Campbell, Ben Donaldson, Folau Fainga’a, Lalakai Foketi, Bernard Foley, Matt Gibbon, Nick Frost, Langi Gleeson, Jake Gordon, Ned Hanigan, Reece Hodge, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway, Noah Lolesio, Lachlan Lonergan, Tate McDermott, Fraser McReight, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Cadeyrn Neville, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Matt Philip, David Porecki, Tom Robertson, Pete Samu, Will Skelton, James Slipper (capt), Sam Talakai, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Tom Wright